RELUCTANT HERO

Bill Taylor: Wing man for
Kingsford Smith

Six hours into a flight carrying mail from Australia to New Zealand on a King George jubilee anniversary trip on 15 May 1935, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross plane was in dire trouble.

The plane had taken off from Richmond, north-west of Sydney, around midnight, heading for New Plymouth, on New Zealand’s North Island, 2100km away.

But somewhere over the Pacific Ocean,  a loud bang brought the flight into great peril. A piece of exhaust pipe fractured, smashed a blade of the starboard propeller on the Fokker tri-engine plane, knocking one engine out.

The strain on the remaining two engines was immense – the port engine began to run out of oil and the plane began to lose speed as it battled 160 km/h wind.

On board the Southern Cross with the legendary Smithy was Captain Patrick Gordon (Bill) Taylor.

There was one obvious option – turn back to Sydney. But could they make it?

Bill Taylor was the co-pilot and navigator. He turned out to be the man who saved the day.

Smith’s Weekly,15 April 1939, takes up the dramatic story:

“Taylor picked up a small suitcase and pushed into his pocket the Thermos flask in which they had brought some coffee.

“Opening the little window of the cockpit, he climbed out against a wind of 100 mph.

“The Southern Cross was a monoplane, with its side engines under the wing. The only way of reaching the dead starboard engine was by a slippery, narrow strut.

“Along this Taylor climbed in his socks. When he reached the engine, he held on to the strut with one hand, and with the Thermos in the other hand drained oil out of the sump into the suitcase.

“He crawled back into the cockpit, then out along the strut on the other side to pour the oil into the port engine.

“As the suitcase would carry only enough oil to keep the port engine going for a short time, Taylor made his climb along the struts again and again (six times in fact).

“(John) Stannage, the wireless-operator, threw overboard the fourteen bags of mall, while Kingsford-Smith masterfully handled the sick plane.

“Each time the port engine was being fed by Taylor it had to be switched off, and the plane lost height. As soon as the oil had been fed, Kingsford-Smith climbed to prepare for the next fall.

“The plane came once within 25 feet of the grey Tasman Sea. They got back to Sydney.”

Taylor’s heroics – reported so matter-of-factly – in Smith’s Weekly resulted in him being awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire for gallantry, converted later to the George Cross, the highest civilian bravery award and equivalent to the military Victoria Cross.

Bill Taylor made many more memorable flights, including the first trans-Indian ocean flight from Port Headland to Mombasa via Diego Garcia aboard a Catalina flying boat, the Frigate Bird II.

                    Frigate Bird II at the
                    Powerhouse Musuem, Sydney

He was the first to survey the central Pacific air route, from Acapulco to New Zealand via the Marquesses and he pioneered the Southern Pacific air route, from Australia to South America, leaving from Grafton and flying to Valparaiso, Chile, via Suva.

On the return leg of that trip, he had a narrow escape from disaster at Easter Island when the sea became extremely rough and the Catalina almost didn’t get airborne.

But his reputation remains as one of Australia’s great aviators – he was modest and shunned the word hero, believing it to be a short-lived reputation after seeing what had happened to others.

Writing his own book, VH-UXX, some years later he referred to his exploits on the New Zealand flight in one paragraph: “After considerable difficulty in working the machine she finally staggered in to reach the coast.”

Patrick Gordon Taylor was born on 21 October 1896 at Mosman, Sydney, third son of Patrick Thomson Taylor, manufacturer’s agent, and his wife Alice Maud(e), née Sayers.

As a child he disliked his christian names and called himself “Bill”.

He and his older brothers went to school at the prestigious Shore school in Sydney but Bill wasn’t happy there and he was sent to board at The Armidale School, in northern NSW.

There, he excelled at sports and joined the school choir, camera club, became an assistant librarian and editor of the school magazine. He did well at Latin and was elected a senior prefect.

When war came in 1914 Bill, and many of his school mates were keen to enlist.

He applied to join the Australian Flying Corps. Surprisingly, he was rejected so he went to England where in 1916, he successfully was commissioned as a pilot into the Royal Flying Corps.

He flew as a fighter pilot with 66 Squadron Royal Flying Corps, later with 94 and 88 squadrons. He was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in July 1917 and promoted to Captain. His citation read:

2nd Lt. Patrick Gordon Taylor RFC. Spec Res.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has taken part in over forty offensive patrols at low altitudes and under heavy fire from the ground. He has always shown exceptional dash and gallantry in attacking large formations of hostile machines, setting a very fine example to all his comrades.

He was credited with shooting down five planes. He became and instructor at the end of the war.

Taylor returned to Australia in 1919. During the 1920s he flew as a private pilot, worked for the De Havilland Aircraft Co. in England, completed an engineering course and studied aerial navigation. He operated a Gipsy Moth seaplane from Sydney Harbour (1928-32) and also flew as a captain with Australian National Airlines Ltd (1930-31).

He served as second pilot or navigator on pioneering flights with Charles Kingsford Smith and others, setting records around the world. Kingsford Smith (Smithy)  and Taylor completed the first Australia-US flight, via Suva and Hawaii (21 October – 4 November 1934) in the Lockheed Altair, Lady Southern Cross.

In 1943 he was commissioned as a flying officer in the  Royal Australian Air Force, transferring to the Royal Air Force in 1944. During the Second World War Captain Taylor served as a ferry pilot with the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA).

After the deaths of his friends Charles Ulm and Kingsford Smith in separate accidents, Taylor was recognised then as Australia’s greatest surviving aviator, pioneering vital new trans-oceanic air routes and receiving a knighthood in 1954 in honour of his services to flight.

 The Man Who Saved Smithy (by Rick Searle) is the thorough account of Taylor’s life and achievements, and his role in saving Smithy and the Southern Cross.

His own records of his experiences were published: Pacific Flight (1935), VH-UXX (1937), Call to the Winds (1939), Forgotten Island (1948), Frigate Bird (1953), The Sky Beyond (1963) and Bird of the Island (1964).

 

Bill Taylor settled at Bayview on Pittwater, where he sailed a 35-ft (11 m) sloop and in 1947 established Loquat Valley School for his daughters. On 4 May 1951 he married Joyce Agnes Kennington.

He was chairman of the family firm, P. T. Taylor Pty Ltd, and a director of Trans Oceanic Airways Pty Ltd that operated the Sandringham 7 flying-boat Frigate Bird III from Sydney on Pacific island cruises from 1954-58.

Sir Gordon Taylor G.C. died after a heart attack at the age of 70 in Honolulu on 16 December 1966.

His daughter Gai Taylor, then living in Lismore NSW, told a newspaper: “He was cremated in Honolulu and his ashes were scattered over Lion Island at the entrance to Broken Bay and Pittwater (Sydney). This is the place he learnt to sail and fly float planes (the Moth on floats) and where his family had a holiday cottage. Probably the second most loved place for him after the South Pacific and particularly Honolulu.”

His wife, their son and two daughters survived him, as did the two daughters of his second marriage

Sources: Various newspaper reports via TROVE, Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Smithy and Ulm disappear
1934 and 1935

Two famous Australian aviators disappeared within a year.

Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm were a record-setting partnership in aviation feats, including the first crossing of the Pacific.

Kingsford Smith, knighted in 1932 for his pioneering aviation feats, set a number of daring flying records from the 1920s to the 1930s.

In 1928 with Charles Ulm he made the first flight across the Pacific Ocean, flying a 3-engine Fokker named the Southern Cross. They left Oakland, California, with two American crewmen on 31 May. They reached Brisbane via Hawaii and Fiji on 9 June, after 83 hours and 19 minutes flying time. The journey made Ulm and Kingsford Smith popular heroes and both were awarded the Air Force Cross and given honorary commissions in the Royal Australian Air Force.

Also in 1928 they took the Southern Cross on a non-stop flight from Victoria to Perth, the first transcontinental crossing, and made the first trans-Tasman crossing from New South Wales to New Zealand and back.

In 1929 Smithy, as he was affectionately known by then, flew from Australia to London in 12 days 18 hours and in 1930 flew from London via Ireland to New York and San Francisco. Later that year he brought the solo record for London to Australia down to less than 10 days. Three years later he had reduced it to 7 days 4 hours.

His record attempts were to promote the idea that planes had a future as airliners on major routes around the world.

With J. T. Pethybridge he took off from England on 6 November 1935, aiming to make one more record-breaking flight to Australia. The plane and both fliers were lost. It is assumed they crashed into the sea somewhere off the coast of Burma while flying at night towards Singapore.

Ulm was Kingsford Smith’s co-pilot on many adventurous flights and joined him in establishing Australian National Airways in December 1928 to operate unsubsidised passenger, mail and freight services.

Ulm also set records of his own. In 1933 he flew from Australia to England and on the return flight broke the record with a time of 6 days 17 hours and 45 minutes. In 1934 he carried the first airmail between New Zealand and Australia and then returned to New Zealand with the first official airmail to New Zealand.

Hoping to establish a trans-Pacific service between Australia, Canada and the United States, in September 1934 Ulm formed Great Pacific Airways Ltd and bought an Airspeed Envoy, Stella Australis (below), with long-range fuel tanks. On 3 December 1934, with a crew of 2, Ulm flew from Oakland for Hawaii. Stella Australis failed to arrive. Despite an extensive sea search no trace of the plane or crew was found.

 

FRANK HORNBY – A TOY STORY

The rise, demise and
rise  again of Meccano

Meccano, Hornby, Dinky … all names familiar to many men, and possibly women, too, from their childhood toy boxes.

The man behind these iconic names was Englishman Frank Hornby.

Today, many toys carrying these names from the early 20th Century are collectors’ items, selling for many hundreds of dollars.

In 2015, a collection of 3,000 toy cars, trucks and trains which was built up over 50 years sold at auction for £227,000 ($A 405,340).

 

Retired car dealer Raymond Hainsworth, 78, said he did not expect to make a fortune on the sale as he had paid top prices for the highest quality toys that included Dinky, Hornby and other famous brands that were not “play worn”.

In Australia rare Dinky toys in reasonable condition are selling on E-bay for anything up to about $800. Condition is the key and if there’s a mint condition box as well, the price goes higher.

Of course, back in the day when they went on sale many of the toys were just that – things meant to played with.

They were the brainchild of Frank Hornby, who as a youngster disliked school with a passion, played truant often and left school aged 16.

He died a wealthy man on 21 September 1936, aged 73. He was born in May 1863 at Copperas Hill, Liverpool, the only son of three children of John Oswald and Martha Hornby. When he left school, he went to work in his father’s provisions merchant business as a cashier.

Hornby had a home workshop and in 1899 be began creating toys for the amusement of his two sons.

He used sheet metal to build trucks, bridges, cars and other items. He realised that if he could build interchangeable parts, one set of pieces could be used to build any number of toys. He made holes in the pieces to fit in the nuts and bolts to join the parts together, and these also served as an axle or pivot to arrange the pieces in any shape or form.

When his father died in 1899 the family business closed and Hornby became a bookkeeper in a meat importing business owned by David Elliott.

Historytoday.com tells how he began in the toy industry: “Hornby recalled that he had read Self-Help by Samuel Smiles over and over again and it inspired him, but for the moment he made little progress and after various clerking jobs he became a bookkeeper at a Liverpool meat importing firm.

“By the late 1890s Hornby was married with two small sons. He made toys for his boys at home in his garden shed. An inspired moment came when he thought of making them out of identical parts that could be fastened together with screws and nuts to assemble whichever model was wanted. The separate parts were metal strips half an inch wide with holes for the fastenings at regular half-inch intervals. They came in three standard lengths. The only tools a boy needed to assemble the models were spanners and a screwdriver. Early in 1901 Hornby took out a patent after borrowing £5 from his boss (Elliot) for the fee.”

 Meccano patent

Elliot encouraged Hornby to continue working on his ideas. Elliot even allowed Hornby to use the premises next to the office to set up a work space and eventually joined him in a partnership, Mechanics Made Easy, in 1902.

Their  first sets went on sale at 7s 6d (equivalent to £30 or more today), each with an instruction leaflet explaining how to make 12 models. The first profit was achieved in 1906.

The trademark was registered in 1907 and the Meccano Ltd Company began operation in 1908.

Meccano sets were exported around the world. In 1920 the Hornby range of clockwork trains was introduced and by 1930 were outselling Meccano sets. Dinky Toys cars, trucks and buses were introduced in 1933.

Hornby himself did extremely well financially and owned a large mansion in Maghull outside Liverpool.

He was also Conservative MP for Everton for a brief period in the 1930s.

MECCANO

After receiving a positive endorsement from professor Henry Selby Hele-Shaw, then Head of the Engineering Department at Liverpool University for his construction toy, Hornby made contracts with outside manufacturers to supply parts and “Mechanics Made Easy” sets went on sale in 1902.

Each set had only 16 different parts with a leaflet detailing the construction of 12 models. In 1903, 1,500 sets were sold, although no profit was made. New parts were continually being introduced and in 1904, six sets, packed in tin boxes, with instruction manuals in French and English, became available. In 1905 two new sets were introduced and in 1906, for the first time, a small profit was made.

By 1907 Hornby’s part suppliers could not meet the demand. This prompted Hornby to quit working for Elliot and find suitable premises to begin manufacturing his own parts. He secured a three-year lease on a workshop in Duke Street, by Dukes Terrace in the Rope Walks area of Liverpool, and with the help of a loan granted to Hornby and Elliot for machinery and wages, they began manufacturing their own parts by June 1907.

Elliot decided not to join the Meccano company that was formed in 1908, leaving Hornby as the sole proprietor. The Meccano factory was relocated to West Derby Road in Liverpool. Meccano Ltd’s turnover for the 1910 financial year was £12,000.

Meccano was exported to many countries and in 1912, Hornby and his son, Roland, formed Meccano (France) Ltd in Paris to manufacture Meccano. An office was also opened in Berlin, Germany and Märklin manufactured Meccano under licence. Hornby also started importing clockwork motors from Märklin.

Demand continued growing and a new factory was built in Binns Road, Liverpool. By September 1914 the Binns Road Factory was in full production and became the company headquarters for more than 60 years.

In 1942 the production of toys stopped and the company, along with many others, switched to manufacturing to aid the war effort.

Despite the bombing of Liverpool during the war, the Binns Road factory was not damaged. The production of Meccano, Dinky Toys and Hornby Dublo resumed after the war in 1945, interrupted only when the supply of metal was restricted.

In 1960 Meccano Ltd purchased Bayko, a Bakelite building model construction toy, from Plimpton Engineering in Liverpool, and moved all its production to Meccano’s factory in Speke, Liverpool. The construction sets were updated, and polystyrene was used instead of Bakelite. Manufacture of Bayko continued until 1967. Meccano Ltd also manufactured Kemex (chemistry sets) and Elektron (electrical sets).

Financial problems beset the company in the early 1960s and Meccano Ltd was taken over by Lines Bros Ltd (owners of the Tri-ang brand) in 1964.

In 1971 the Lines Brothers Tri-ang group went into voluntary liquidation and Meccano-Tri-ang was eventually sold to Airfix industries in 1972, the company name reverting to Meccano Ltd. General Mills, a US toy manufacturer, bought out Meccano France, renaming it Miro-Meccano

The emergence of other toy manufacturers and television advertising saw Meccano’s market share reduced markedly.

 Binns Rd factory

To cut their losses, Airfix closed Meccano Ltd’s flagship Binns Road factory in Liverpool in November 1979, ending three-quarters of a century of British toy making. The manufacture of Meccano, however, continued in France. Airfix was liquidated two years later and in 1981 General Mills purchased Meccano Ltd UK, giving it complete control of the Meccano franchise. It shifted all Meccano and Airfix operations to France and completely revamped the Miro-Meccano construction sets.

Meccano went through various French, American and Japanese ownerships in four decades and by 2010 was wholly owned by a French company, based at a factory in Calais set up by the original British company in 1959.

Meccano kits were updated to include radio-control, robotics, sound and lights. But French and Chinese-made Meccano kits retained the same metal shapes, and the same hole spacing and sizes, which Frank Hornby created in 1901.

Sales boomed in the early 21st Century.

“We lost out for a while during the computer-game boom,” said factory manager, Mattei Théodore. “But there seems, all over the world, to be a return to traditional values, and traditional kinds of toys.”

The first Meccano components were a metallic silver colour. They later became blue and gold and then red and green and then blue and yellow again. There are now more than 100 colour shades in the Meccano range.

HORNBY

Frank Hronby began with 0 scale clockwork model trains.

By powering models with electricity, he set in train the development of Hornby Dublo (00 scale) electric train sets.They were launched in 1938, after Frank Hornby’s death. They were a cheaper and smaller scale electric model railway than had previously been available in Britain.

The brand thrived again after the war but by 1964 the Meccano company was on its knees.

The Hornby railways brand name was taken over by Lines Brothers and despite various of business setbacks, Hornsby Railways is today based in Kent, now a wholly British company owned by Phoenix Asset Management (PAM), with much of its production in China.

Hornby became the market leader in 00 scale model railways, however recent years haven’t been kind to the company’s fortunes, and a new management team was brought in in 2017.

There are more than 650 items in the Hornby product range.

Hornby subsidiary brands include Airfix, Fleischmann, Corgi Classics, Arnold, Lima, Jouef and Rivarossi.

An attempt to build the world’s longest model railway formed the final episode of James May’s Toy Stories. May, who had identified the train set as his “absolute favourite”, hoped that a train would run successfully along the length of the Tarka Trail, a disused 60 km railway line in North Devon.

Hornby was heavily involved, providing the track and the prototype of their OO gauge British Rail Class 395 Javelin train. The train which travels at only .6 km/h failed just short of Bideford station.

In April 2011 James May tried again, challenging a German team. All the trains reached their destinations and the British team won.

Today the Frank Hornby heritage centre in his home town of Maghull houses an impressive collection of Hornby models and Meccano, including the first Meccano set Frank Hornby made. There’s also a working model railway.

DINKY

In early 1934 Meccano Ltd introduced Dinky Toys, a line of die-cast miniature model cars and trucks under the trade mark “Meccano Dinky Toys”.

The company also introduced a construction toy for younger children called Dinky Builder. It comprised rectangular and triangular hinged metal plates that could be easily assembled. The parts were painted jade green and salmon pink to try to attract girls into the otherwise boys-only toy market.

Rare examples of the original Dinky toys – ranging from cars to planes – today can command four-figure fees at auction. The brand is now owned by the American toy company Mattel but the name is rarely used.

Additional source: Wikipedia.